Interpreting the Scriptures (Part 5)

Privileged elite interpreters & self-perpetuating systems

The Reformation was about taking authority away from a man and giving it to a book. The Catholics could control their masses through the doctrine of papal infallibility, the Protestants through the doctrine of Bible inerrancy. – Glenn Steers

Church leaders in the 1500s (like many church leaders today) did not think the average christian was capable of  understanding the scriptures. They felt christians needed priests to explain to them what God demands of them.

Nowadays Christians are allowed to read bibles, but “leaders” think they need to be given “lenses” (basically doctrinal boundaries) through which to interpret the scriptures. This is the purpose of bible colleges and seminaries – not teaching people to ask questions and find their own answers, but rather teaching their own brand of theology.

As Christians, we are taught by our leaders to believe certain ideas and behave in certain ways. We are also encouraged to read our Bibles. But we are conditioned to read the Bible with the lens handed to us by the Christian tradition to which we belong. We are taught to obey our denomination (or movement) and never challenge what it teaches. – Frank Viola

To think that there are special people who are masters of discovering the “correct interpretation,” we have to assume that a “correct interpretation” exists. What if there is no correct interpretation? What if God only intends to dialog with us through our reading of bibles, not to reveal truth through correct interpretation?

But no scholars or seminarians say this kind of stuff!

Actually, there are plenty of them who do. But, yes, it’s kind of difficult for many to do so because it could mean that they lose their job! No more need for “bible teachers.” It is a circular and self-perpetuating system to validate their own profit-generating practices.

The sacredness of the bible is the basis for seminaries and bible colleges. It would be immensely difficult for people there to accept that the scriptures are not special in the way they think it is because it would make their life-long devotion to a book look silly.

In other words, they may have personal reasons for supporting the religious view of bibles.

Thus, support for the sacredness of bibles is also a circular; the scriptures validate seminaries, and seminaries validate the scriptures.

Ultimately, whether intentionally or not, doctrines about bibles (such as inerrancy, inspiration, and authority) have been used to give power to those with knowledge. They become the arbiters of truth, for through their knowledge of the scriptures, they have the power to rightly discern.

But my trust in the scripture’s authority is not only based on reason but on experience as well. I’ve experienced that what it says is true, therefore I know it’s true.

But remember, that’s what you’ve been told ever since you became a christian. You were told that God speaks to you through the scriptures, that it is God’s word, etc. So you believed that. And our beliefs affect our experiences. This is called confirmation bias.

God will speak to you through whatever. So if you spend a bunch of time reading bibles, then he will speak to you through that regardless of whether it really is inerrant, inspired, authoritative, etc. How do you know that if you had been told that some other books were sacred that you wouldn’t have had similar experiences with those books (and hence think they were sacred)? This is not to say that all books are equally valuable; I’m simply pointing out that anyone’s belief in anything is necessarily affected by subjective bias.

Ultimately, biblical interpretation is something not for qualified individuals but for communities.

It can seem as if biblical scholars are the privileged interpreters of scripture. They alone can determine what the Bible means. But the Bible was written for believing communities, not critics, and real biblical interpretation happens when scripture does something to such a community. When the church places special emphasis on an academic and critical approach to scripture, it easily sets up a new type of priestly control of the Christian community by a guild of experts whose work is authoritarian, not in the sense that it cannot be questioned, but in the sense that it is the privileged responsibility of an elite. – John Goldingay

We rely on the witness of the church through time (with the hermeneutical trajectory set by the apostles as a central component), as well as the wisdom of the church in our time – both narrowly considered as a congregation, denomination, or larger tradition and more broadly considered as a global reality, all of which involves the direct involvement of the Spirit of God. Biblical interpretation is not merely a task that individuals perform: it is something that grows out of our participation in the family of God in the broadest sense possible. – Peter Enns

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2 thoughts on “Interpreting the Scriptures (Part 5)

  1. Reblogged this on Stepping Toes and commented:
    We would consider that in many cases intentionally certain doctrines where presented to be taken by people as the rules to follow. Throughout history many were looking to the freedom from error. We should trust the Words of God, like they are written down in the Holy Scriptures. There is no extra formula necessary, nor extra theological masters necessary to come to understanding. All may find inspiration in the Words like they are brought to us. We should allow that Word to have the full authority. We only have to be willing to open our ears to the Word of god so that it can come into our soul.

  2. I love this, very good information. The greatest tragedy is that many do not want to take the time to learn how to study God’s word and prefer letting someone interpret / teach them…

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